Guide to Lebanon Blog Posts

It’s hard to believe how much time has passed since I was in Lebanon. Sometimes it feels like it was just yesterday and other times it feels like it was all a dream (yes, I know that sounds cliche!). Whenever I think back to those incredible ten days in Lebanon I always have a smile on my face.

In a few weeks I will be presenting again on my time in Lebanon. This presentation will be at the Hudson Library and Historical Society on Tuesday February 5th at 7:00pm. Again, I hope for those of you in the area, you will consider attending.

For anyone who is new to my blog I thought it might be helpful if I repost the links to each blog post that I made while in Lebanon. I have included a brief summary of each one.

Enjoy!

Oreos with the Ambassador = Pre-departure, reflection on orientation in Washington DC

Details from pre-departure = more information on our pre-departure orientation sessions

Walking Tour = Our first day in Lebanon we took a walking tour of downtown Beirut

All around Lebanon = Big day of touring including Khalil Gibran museum, the Cedars, and the Roman Ruins at Baalbek

Day 4 – Our first meetings = met with Michael Young, Hanin Ghaddar, Ousama Safa and Lokman Slim

Day 6 – More meetings = met with Youssef Fawaz from Al Majmoua (microfinance NGO) and toured American University of Beirut

Parliament Meeting = met with Simon Abi Ramia, member of Parliament and head of the commission for Youth and Sports

Tour of Byblos = visited Jeita Grotto and Byblos

Just Checking In = photos at the border with Israel and with UNIFIL

Music in Lebanon = details on Najwa Karam performance at the Achrafieh Music Festival and our visit to Skybar

Visit to the US Embassy in Beirut = details on the life of US ambassadors in Lebanon

ANERA = met with Bill Corcoran, president of American Near East Refugee Assosciation, who does work with Palestinian Refugees

 

Flower at Baalbek

ANERA

One night we met with Bill Corcoran, the President for America Near East Refugee Aid (ANERA) over an American dinner of hotdogs in the hotel. Funny note about these hotdogs – they had corn on them!

ANERA was founded in 1967 in order to give a positive face for humanitarian aid. ANERA simply does aid, no advocacy or political involvement. ANERA works in Lebanon, Jordan and Palestine and has projects related to healthcare, education, and economic development. It was a surprise to us when Bill said that there are probably only about 250,000 Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. Most figures we had quoted to us were almost double this number. He said that 450,000 is the figured used by the UN, but there is very little information to back this up. According to Bill, many other NGO’s have done headcounts and estimates which indicate the figure to be closer to 250,000.

The average Palestinian refugee family has six children. With poor living conditions, I asked Bill if there were any family planning programs in the camps. He said there are not and they probably would not be very effective because the Palestinians see their children as their legacy and their social security. I was surprised to learn that particularly in the Occupied Territories of Palestine, they see their large families as their way to beat the Israelis in the long run who only have around two children per family.

Over 50% of the youth drop out of high school and there is over 50% unemployment in the camps. Most people live on less than $6 per day.

One group member has been focused on brain drain during the trip and asked if this is an issue that impacts the Palestinians. Bill shared a surprising insight: if a Palestinian manages to break through all the barriers and gain a college education and then takes a job somewhere else (usually in the Gulf), Bill still sees this as a positive because of the individual success and also because generally they send a large amount of money back to their family in the camps which is a major positive.

The Palestinian refugee issue has been going on for over 60 years and is the longest standing refugee issue in the world, as well as the most religiously charged issue. An example of the frustrations felt by Bill in his position, in November 2008 he was asked to dedicate a wing of a new hospital that had been paid for primarily with money from the US. The frustration is that less than two months after the dedication ceremony, the hospital was completely destroyed by the Israeli army which is US funded. So essentially, US money built the hospital and US money destroyed the hospital. This is an example of the United States’ contradictory policy in the region.

We asked Bill what message he would like us to bring back to the US for our friends and family and he asked that we share the idea that blindly throwing ourselves behind everything that Israel does is not the same as supporting Israel, meaning that we can be more critical certain Israeli actions and decisions while still supporting the country as whole. It’s also important to note that US foreign aid is supposed to help end poverty, but Israel is the largest recipient of US foreign aid and has an incredibly high GDP. I agree with Bill’s insinuated comment that Israel does not need our aid. Unfortunately, it comes down to the US having an ally in the region and we are essentially paying Israel to remain our ally. To further complicate the situation, I think recent conflicts have shown that Israel is much more of a fair weather friend than the US likes to admit. Israel has indicated recently that they will do what they believe to be best for them, rather than simply do what the US wants them to do.

Hope you enjoyed a longer and more informational post! Here’s the website for ANERA if you’d like more information: http://www.anera.org/

 

Just Checking In

Today was another busy and exciting day in Lebanon. Lucky for all of you (my blog readers) we had some long car rides which I brought my laptop on and wrote several blog posts! I’ll post more details later, but we spent the day in the south of Lebanon. At one time we were mere feet away from the border with Israel. We got pictures with UNIFIL (United Nations International Forces in Lebanon). They were all very nice and eager to take photos with us. The one gentleman I have a photo with actually had his own camera with him and had the girl who was taking our photo take one on his camera as well.

Photo 1: Israel in the background. Photo 2: with the UNIFIL officer (yes he’s from Indonesia!). Photo 3: with the UN tank.

Day 4 – Our first meetings

Yesterday was our first day of meetings. We went to this super swanky office building where the Lebanon Renaissance Foundation has their offices. We met with four individuals:

  1. Michael Young who is an editor at Reason magazine and also an editor at the Daily Star. He has also written a book, which I am going to try and get when we return called “The Ghosts of Martyrs Square: An Eyewitness Account of Lebanon’s Life Struggles.”
  2. Hanin Ghaddar is the managing editor of Now Lebanon. She was very friendly and honest with her comments.
  3. Ousama Safa who is a Social Affairs officer at UN ESCWA. He also has experience with think tanks, lobbying and public policy.
  4. Lokman Slim is an activist trying to raise awareness about the collective amnesia regarding the Civil War. He co-founded Umam Documentation & Research and has helped publish several reports related to the Civil War.

All of the panelists were informative and interesting. We started off looking at the Arab Spring. One of the panelists shared that he believes there is a false sense of belief that things can happen in Lebanon as well post Arab Spring. The reality is that the Lebanese beast has multiple heads and so it is impossible to rally for one specific officials resignation or something similar because are so many issues at different levels.

The major topic on everyone’s minds right now is Syria. Syria has a very direct influence on events in Lebanon, therefore it is a question of how, not when, things might change in Lebanon.

Another topic which we discussed was the amnesia related to the Civil War. The Lebanese Civil War officially ended in 1990 with an official amnesty. It is called into question how the war ended and, more importantly, if it ended? It is surprising that a unified history book has not been decided on in Lebanon. There are three different history books depending on which region you live in. The panelists had different views regarding the issue of the textbook. Ousama believed that it was ridiculous that the country could not decide on one book and it should be remedied as soon as possible. However, Lokman, who spends a lot of time on the topic of the Civil War in his work, though that the textbook was irrelevant and advocated a curriculum based on all different perspectives. The attitude of many in Lebanon is that the war wasn’t their war, it was a “war of others.” All panelists agreed that the Lebanese need to take ownership of the war in order to truly move on.

A big issue in Lebanon is the sectarianism. All panelists agreed that the confessional system is flawed and needs revisions, however they did not all agree on what the revisions should be.

I was surprised by the panelists opinions towards the US and especially US foreign policy. One panelists commented that there is a huge vacuum left by US policy in the region. He wanted the US to show global leadership with diplomacy and use their musclepower to forced people into dialogue because the time for dialogue may be missed. With the shrinking space for dialogue and diplomacy, there is a growth of radicalism. One panelist seemed fearful that Obama would likely be stepping back from the Middle East if re-elected.